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Planting a Living Christmas Tree

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Families thinking "green" this holiday season may want to consider the purchase of a living tree this year, one that will be planted outside after the holiday. The easy part is buying the tree. Planning for when the tree will be planted outdoors will be critical to being able to enjoy the tree for many years to come out in the home landscape. Once you have your tree at home, keep it on the north side of the house or a shady location, keeping it out of direct sunlight.

Trees can be purchased either as a balled and burlapped (B&B) evergreen tree or one that has been grown in a container. Typically, the B&B evergreen will be heavier and a little more awkward to handle getting it into the home. A container grown tree will have a soil mix in the pot that will be much lighter, so handling the tree is easier. Living trees should only be in the home for a limited time or they may begin to break their winter dormancy and actually started to grow indoors. The tree should remain outside until just before Christmas and should be returned to the outdoors within 5 or 6 days.

The tree ball or container will need to be kept moist since these plants are alive, just in a dormant state. This is where B&B and container grown plants will differ. The B&B plants will have heavier soil, holding more moisture. The container-grown tree has a soil mix that allows for very efficient drainage, requiring daily monitoring to be sure that the soil remains moist. A large saucer can be placed underneath the container grown tree and you would water it as you would a very large houseplant, placing enough water evenly in the pot to allow just a little water to collect in the saucer. The B&B tree takes a little more preparation. You can place the B&B tree into a large water tight container of your choosing, filling the container with a moist potting soil or shredded peat moss to support the ball. The potting soil or peat moss will prevent the soil ball from drying out. This also acts as insulation, keeping the soil ball from warming up, allowing tree to remain dormant.

Homeowners should locate the planting site in advance, recognizing that the evergreen tree will usually be 12 to 15+ feet across at the base and easily 35 feet tall, with many trees growing much taller depending on the kind of evergreen. With your location set, buy a bale or two of clean straw. Use the straw to mulch the soil to prevent the ground from being frozen deeply when it is time to plant your tree. You will use the straw again later.

Once the tree is back outdoors, you will be able to dig the appropriate sized hole through the unfrozen soil. Be careful not to plant the tree too deep, digging the hole only as deep as necessary. If you are planting a container grown evergreen tree, you will need to remove the container no matter what it is made of or most of the burlap if it is a B&B evergreen once it is in the planting hole. Water well with buckets of water and use that straw to mulch the evergreen tree again.

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